How come fixed mindset people can also get to the top?

The book Mindset by Carol Dweck is a phenomenal book explaining how Growth Mindset is a necessity for success. The opposite of it – a Fixed Mindset – makes you believe that success or failure is based on talen, hence trying to do something outside of your comfort zone becomes a risk: If you fail, it might confirm that your talent is limited.

Yet – there are plenty of Fixed Mindset people in the world of sports and other fields who are the best at what they do. How did they get to the top, if their Fixed Mindset doesn’t allow them to believe in the power of practice to improve?

The answer lies in Narcissism and Maslow’s Hierarcy of Needs.

Simplified, the Hierarchy of needs state that there is a ladder of needs that you need to satisfy, one after another:

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Belonging
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-actualization

A healthy person can move through these needs up to self-actualization. If they are of a Growth Mindset, they will believe in the possibility of improving themselves, which will fuel their quest for endless Self-actualization.

But some people can never move past the Self-esteem need. These are the narcissists. They have an endless ego, and can never satisfy their self-esteem – they never feel good enough.

Such a person doesn’t need a Growth Mindset to try. The drive to prove themselves worthy will motivate them to continue trying their best to win. Thus, a Fixed Mindset person can become the best in the world not because they’re driven to improve themselves, but to prove themselves worthy.

This is obvious looking at the Fixed Mindset people who are at the top of their respective fields. If they lose, they are sore losers and often blame their losses on external circumstances.

If they win, on the other hand, they seem want to avoid any potential challenge to their throne that comes in their way. This is because their mindset is fixed, hence they don’t believe in trying to improve themselves further by taking on a new challenge. Rather, they’re fuelled by their need for self-esteem, and being at the top gives them a way to tell themselves that they’re good enough. A new challenge presents no upside, only the downside of potentially losing their source of self esteem. Until they can no longer hold onto the belief that they are the best, or if others start questioning their abilities. Then, they feel the need to prove that they are indeed the best again.

Hence, a Growth Mindset champion is driven by the positive motivation to self-actualize, while the Fixed Mindset champion is necessarily a narcissist, driven by the fear of not being good enough. Being a Fixed Mindset champion is a miserable existence of constantly trying to flee from pain, rather than the positive pleasure of achievement.

The below table summarizes the phenomenon:

Fixed mindsetGrowth mindset
NarcissistDon’t believe that they can grow,
but highly driven to prove that they’re
good, hence fight their utmost to
prove their talent. Life’s purpose is
to prove their talent to everybody so
that they can prove everybody
Never get past the esteem / recognition need
and try their utmost to practice to become the
best they can be in order to show that they can
also do it and satisfy their endless need for
recognition. Life is a miserable existence because
they always fight to improve themselves to get
what they sorely miss – recognition.
HealthyDon’t believe they can grow and
hence stop trying after they’ve
fulfilled their need for Esteem /
Recognition (either satisfied or
dissatisfied with the talent they
believe they’re born with).
Try their best to self-actualize and
become the best they can be – and
measure their accomplishment by
breaking records and winning. Losing
doesn’t mean they’re bad, it just
means they need to try harder.

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